race to the race to the top

Albany fails to vote on charter cap as RttT deadline passes

The state legislature failed to vote on a proposal to raise the state’s cap on charter schools today as the deadline for the federal Race to the Top competition came and went.

This meant that the state submitted its application for the federal grant program today with a nearly maxed-out cap of 200 charter schools still intact. The competition favors states without restrictions on the growth of charters.

There is much more to the content of the state’s application than the charter school dust-up. Charter school advocates and opponents argue over how much the failure to raise the cap will matter for New York’s bid for up to $700 million of the stimulus fund. Charter supporters point to statements from federal officials that suggest every point will matter in the competition, while others downplay the cap’s importance in the grand scheme of the competition.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch emphasized today that the application also includes an overhaul of teacher training, certification and the way school districts collect and track student data.

“I believe the application is eloquent and articulate and sets out a bold reform agenda,” she said. “I want to talk about what’s in this application. I want people to understand how broad it is.”

We haven’t yet seen New York’s full plan, which likely runs hundreds of pages long. But the agenda will be subject to intense scrutiny in coming months as observers take up Tisch’s call.

If New York’s plan does not make the cut for the first round of Race to the Top awards, renewed attention will also likely be focused on what changes the state might make in time for the second round deadline in June. States that do not make the first cut for grants will receive detailed feedback on how they can improve their proposals from federal education officials, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said today.

And there’s no sign that Mayor Michael Bloomberg intends to abandon his push for legislative changes that could change the way teachers are hired, fired and evaluated.

As much as charter advocates want to push bills raising the cap and the mayor wants reforms, however, all attention for the immediate future will be on the budget. Charter supporters will have to devote most of their energy to fighting the governor’s plan to freeze the amount of money charter schools receive per student.

In comments on the Obama administration’s announcement today of a $1.35 billion extension of Race to the Top, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten reminded observers that much more is yet to come.

“While the president’s intention to extend Race to the Top demonstrates his commitment to making public education a national priority, all we know today about how well the program will work is that many states have submitted applications,” Weingarten said.

Here’s our live-blog of the debate in Albany over the charter cap lift.

And here’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor David Paterson’s joint statement in response to the day’s outcome:

JOINT STATEMENT FROM MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG AND GOVERNOR DAVID A. PATERSON ON FAILURE TO BRING GOVERNOR’S BILL TO RAISE THE CAP ON CHARTER SCHOOLS TO THE FLOOR OF THE LEGISLATURE

“This afternoon New York State’s Race to the Top application was filed with the federal government.

“Today is a sad day for the children of New York, for the tens of thousands of students on wait lists for charter schools and for the thousands more who need and deserve better educational choices. We are disappointed that we may now miss out on an opportunity to receive unprecedented federal funding for our schools and our children. It is unthinkable that after being advised to make specific changes to enhance our application, the Legislative Leaders could not come to an agreement on legislation that would have significantly increased our competitiveness.

“Filing this application is in the best interest of New York’s 3 million schoolchildren and the people of New York. We have been offered a rare opportunity to receive unprecedented federal funding for our schools and our children when we need it most. As we have said throughout this process, our application is strong. But given the competitive nature of this selection process, we believe that the State Legislature should have joined our efforts to do everything in our power to ensure that New York is a true competitor for Race to the Top grants.  It is incumbent upon us as lawmakers to take any and all action necessary to succeed in a process that would reap up to $700 million in funds for education.

“On behalf of the City and the State, we want to thank Senator Dean Skelos for his efforts to pass this important legislation. In addition, we would like to thank Senators Craig Johnson, Ruben Diaz Sr., and members of the Senate Republican Conference, Assembly members Sam Hoyt and Brian Kolb and members of the Assembly Republican Conference and the other legislators who supported the Governor’s legislation which offered our State the greatest opportunity to receive Round 1 Race to the Top funding. Since introducing that bill on January 7th, the Governor met on several occasions with the Legislative Leaders, there were numerous staff meetings and the Governor’s office was open to negotiations. The Governor revised the legislation to reflect many of the concerns raised by the Leaders and their members. But, those efforts were not met halfway by our Legislative Leaders. It was not until the 11th hour that Legislative Leaders, without notice or negotiation, submitted their own bill on the Race to the Top competition – a bill that would ultimately have undermined the improvement that the Race to the Top grants intend to achieve.

“Race to the Top provides an unprecedented opportunity to reform our schools and challenge an educational status quo that is failing too many children. President Obama and Congress have provided significant financial support for school reform. This is a chance to change our schools and to accelerate student achievement, and we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that we are more than eligible to receive as much federal funding as possible as this process continues.”

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”